The true art of memory is the art of attention. —Samuel Johnson 

There’s something about fall that always makes me feel nostalgic. November marks the beginning of the holiday season, and Thanksgiving is tied up with memories both of past celebrations but also of all that the past year has given us. 

Writing is an eternal exercise in imagination and memory. Even when we write about incidents that have never happened, when we place our ideas on the page, we are crafting a memory. A memory for ourselves, and a memory for the reader. 

Memories also influence everything we write, because our memories have built our current beliefs and perceptions. I often write about characters’ guiding beliefs. This is simply just the worldview they hold that is the result of the character’s lived experience.

It sounds complex, but we craft these guiding beliefs all of the time. We say things like, “Oh, he thinks he can get away with anything. His parents clearly never told him no in his whole life.”

We don’t know the truth, of course. We’ve just made it up. Still, it makes sense—the character’s life (his parents never told him no) made him think (guiding belief) that he could get away with anything.

As writers, we are often very aware of these ideas when we craft characters. But we are not always aware of them when we think about ourselves and our own memories.

Memories can be a very rich place to explore characters...and ourselves. If you want to understand someone, try answering the question, “What is this person afraid of?” Once you know, create a memory (or simply remember one) that explains where the fear came from.

As Johnson says, memory is the art of attention. And where we place our attention reveals the “life lessons” we learn to believe.